Alchemy Is Magic
Alchemy is often portrayed as magical or fantastical in some way. In fictionland, you can use alchemy to produce powerful potions, new weapons, or even turn an object into something else completely.
This is a case of Science Marches On. Alchemy, after all, used to be an acceptable field of study. However, alchemy always had something occult-like to it, as evidenced by goals such as the panacea (cure-all) and the "Elixir of Life" (which grants immortality). For more notes on this, visit the Useful Notes page on alchemy.
Justified in settings where Background Magic Field touches everything: when a force you can't grab interact with things you can manipulate, handling it indirectly is an obvious solution - it's what we're doing all the time. See also Magitek, since alchemy can be seen as closer to a precise science rather than an art.
Anime and Manga
- The 1711 immortals of Baccano!! were originally alchemists. At one point, a couple of them are seen reciting from the Emerald Tablet. They used alchemy to summon a demon to achieve the Elixir of Life.
- Fate/Zero, and by extension Fate/stay night, reveals that the Einzbern family specializes in alchemy, which is how they were able to produce homonculi and the Holy Grail's body itself.
- Busou Renkin is somewhat loosely based on alchemy; the title translates to "Arms Alchemy," but the transmutation of lead into gold and the Philosopher's Stone are explicitly mentioned as having failed.
- Although the Philosopher's Stone failed, immortality is still possible. all you have to do is use your own DNA as the basis for a homunculus and bond it with yourself. You have to eat humans now, but you won't age and have a healing factor.
- Fullmetal Alchemist. In this universe, turning rocks into gold is a simple (albeit illegal) alchemic procedure, but the Philosopher's stone, and immortality along with it, is still being sought. Interestingly, they use the scientific elements, the ones listed in our real-world periodic table, rather than the four classical elements of earth, water, wind and fire.
- There are three traditional methods of conducting alchemy, as well as a fourth method developed recently:
- The alchemy of Amestris uses the movement of the tectonic plates and geothermal energy.
- The alkahestry of Xing uses ley lines originating from mountains.
- The alchemy of Xerxes, an ancient city from before the founding of Amestris and Xing, was the precursor to Amestrian alchemy and Xingese alkahestry. Its power source is never fully explained.
- The most recently invented method of alchemy was that of Ishval, described as a combination of Amestrian and Xingese alchemy.
- It bears saying, though, that the Fullmetal Alchemist brand of alchemy is entirely different in methodology than real-life, especially Western, alchemy. In Fullmetal Alchemist, the transmutations worked on the principle of exchanging equal values of energy and matter in order to power the rituals. In real life, many alchemists believed that primal matter would eventually progress to gold, the most pure form of of matter. The goal of alchemical experiments, then, was to artificially speed up this process.
- Hiromu has shown her work. Fullmetal Alchemist includes various alchemical symbols: the cross and snake on Edward's cloak, armor-Alphonse's left shoulder, and Izumi's left collarbone is actually called a flamel (named after the famous real world alchemist Nicholas Flamel); the Oroborus tattoo the homunculi have, in alchemy, represents the snake eating itself-the perfect being; as stated above, the Philosopher's stone was also the goal of many alchemists.
- There are three traditional methods of conducting alchemy, as well as a fourth method developed recently:
- Mahou Sensei Negima has some references to alchemy—at the end of Volume 21, Ken Akamatsu shows his work with a quite detailed depiction of the history of alchemy and its relationship with the 1,000,000 drachma 'ixir'.
- Defied in Spice and Wolf: when Lawrence goes to a district for a town's alchemist, his guide tells him they just do experiments with acids and metal. This ends up holding true even after we find out they have a god in human form like Holo living there.
- During Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol, the Negative Man merged with his (female) therapist and became Rebis, the alchemical marriage of man and female. It then found immortality in a tree on the moon. This is Grant Morrison we're talking about, people.
- Old Maggoty in Elfquest has a talent for potions and brews and is apparently the World of Two Moons inventor of wine.
- Miracle Max in The Princess Bride practices something that seems to draw on alchemic tradition.
- In Star Wars, there exists Sith Alchemy, a school of The Dark Side that combines the Force teachings of the Dark Jedi with ancient Sith Sorcery. It involves transmutation of weapons and creatures, as well as necromancy and (as mastered by Darth Plagueis) the ability to create life. It is considered by the Jedi to be the ultimate perversion of The Force.
- Big Trouble in Little China. Egg Shen mentioned Taoist alchemy. This may be what he used to create the potion he had everyone drink to improve their abilities before the fight with David Lo Pan's forces.
- In Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, the practice of alchemy is a major plot thread. Daniel considers it hogwash, Isaac studies it intensely and considers it just as valid as science, and a good many nobles dabble in it just because it's the cool thing to do. Enoch the Red is a famous alchemist with a scientific bent, and then Enoch whips out some Elixir Vitae and brings Daniel and Isaac Back from the Dead.
- There are alchemists in the Belgariad, although Belgarath, the world's eldest sorcerer, is rather dismissive of it: "If you want gold so bad, why don't you dig it up?" Senji, an alchemist who discovered sorcery by accident (making him immortal), actually discovered how to turn lead to gold, but the process costs more than the resultant gold... and is quite dangerous.
Stunned alchemist: (recovering from an explosion) Too much sulfur. That's it. I put in too much sulfur...
- Albeit not too popular, Alchemy is also practiced on the Disc. Most of the time, though, Ankh Morporks alchemists merely blow up their guild house instead of achieving anything.
- They have achieved all kinds of things when they've managed to put their goal of making gold aside for a few moments, such as film suitable for movie cameras. Cheery Littlebottom, the City Watch forensics officer is a trained alchemist, but left the guild. Through the roof. Like others before them, the Disc alchemists have discovered you can turn lead into gold, but only at the expense of a lot more gold than you're going to end up with. They also tend to believe that pretty much anything contains the secret to eternal life: "An alchemist would cut his own head off if he thought it would help him live longer".
- The Gentleman Bastard Sequence series has alchemy as a low-magic practice that's seen like a science, setting is as a contrast to the more flashy high magic of the Bondsmagi of Karthain. Alchemical stoves that use water as a fuel source are commonplace, as are alchemical blends of fruit, liquor, and animals (such as a hawk with scorpion stingers for talons and an accompanying venom sac).
- In Harry Potter the title stone belongs to Nicholas Flamel and has been used by him and his wife to keep them alive these many centuries. Neither of them appear in the book but are friends of Dumbledore. At the end of the book they are mentioned as putting their affairs in order now that the stone is no more.
- Potions are also frequently used in the series.
- Strangely, alchemy is a magical discipline in the HP world, represented across several media (you can even study it at Hogwarts in the final years, according to Pottermore) but how exactly it relates to Potions and Transfiguration is not discussed.
- The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel: Starring Nicholas Flamel himself. In that world, some alchemists have indeed found immortality; Flamel and the Comte De Saint Germain among them. Flamel himself has found the way to create the Stone and the Elixer, though it requires a special formula from a certain magical book. The formula is in fact different every month the book reveals it; trying to use the same formula again is dangerous. The book itself contains many other secret, some which are far too dangerous, should they fall into the hands of the Dark Elders, for Flamel to let the book out of his sight.
- A Song of Ice and Fire has its own Alchemists' Guild, who claimed a magical pedigree back in the day but are basically viewed as charlatans and doddering old men in contemporary Westeros. They are feared and respected for one thing, however—they know how to make wildfire (or "alchemist's piss," as it's more colloquially known), which is basically what happens when napalm and Greek fire have an unholy spawning. It's also hinted that they might not be lying about the magical pedigree; one alchemist says to Tyrion that it's become much easier to produce wildfire for some reason, that reason, unbeknownst to him, likely being the reemergence of dragons.
- The Pendragon Legend features the dark riders as major antagonists who seek to complete the great work through black magic. That's not the focus of the novel however, but rather, the young scientist researching their history, and the history of the Pendragon family as well as their connection to the rosacrucian order and the freemasons.
- Harry uses alchemy occasionally in The Dresden Files, usually when his regular magic isn't enough (which happens rarer and rarer as the series progresses). Making a potion involves six ingredients; a base, and something to stand in for each of the five senses. Then he performs a spell which makes the mess a potion.
- In The Wise Man's Fear, this is lampshaded when discussing a fireproofing ointment. When the protagonist Kvothe (who works mostly with chemistry and the unusually scientific magic of the setting expresses his doubts as to what alchemy can do (specifically, that nothing becomes flammable when mixed with water), his alchemist friend Simmon responds by throwing some water into the substance, which promptly explodes, leaving the usually know-it-all Kvothe to admit: "I know nothing about alchemy".
- In Sacre Bleu the Colorman uses the title pigment to extend his life for millenia.
Live Action TV
- 1960's Batman series. Cassandra Spellcraft was an alchemist who created magical substances to use in her criminal pursuits.
- The tabletop RPG Pathfinder features alchemists as a base class. The flavor text tends to treat them as a combination of Mad Scientist, Mad Bomber, and Professor Guinea Pig and, indeed, most of their class features involve making magical bombs, using poisons, permanently modifying their own bodies to add things like extra limbs or tentacles, and drinking Psycho Serum. At 20th level, the class culminates in the alchemist making a "grand discovery," among which are the secrets of eternal youth (making alchemists the only class able to avail themselves of Type II Immortality without becoming undead) or the process by which one makes the Philosopher's Stone (which transforms large amounts of iron and lead into silver and gold and can be used to restore the dead to life).
- Promethean: The Created takes a whole lot from alchemy, turning the story of Frankenstein's Monster into an attempt to bring a person back from the dead that created a half-finished human powered by the fire of the universe. Prometheans have humors based on the classical elements, pursue Refinements based on the seven metals (as well as cobalt and bronze), and can create Athanors to further refine the fire that powers them.
- Second Sight gives us alchemy as a prospective science for thaumaturgists (read: humans who know magic but haven't Awakened). It comes in external and internal flavors and is primarily useful for extending one's lifespan.
- Mage: The Awakening also makes use of alchemy as a sub-branch of Awakened magic. Any mage with a good knowledge of Matter can roll a spell into a salve/ointment for later use, and it's possible to perfect any one of the seven planetary metals.
- Shadowrun. Alchemy is a branch of magic. In early editions it was a specific type of Enchanting used to refine raw materials into alchemical radicals (which have uses in creating other magic items).
- Dungeons & Dragons. In early editions alchemy was used to create magical potions and other one-use items. Permanent magic items were made by wizards and priests using different techniques.
- AD&D 2 Tome of Magic introduced several alchemy-related spells and magic items, up to Philosopher's Stone which requires magical processes to produce.
- Player's Options ("AD&D 2.5") has basic Alchemy skill that allows identification of magic or mundane substances and production of simple useful materials like glues and incendiary compounds. There's also Sage Knowledge: Alchemy.
- Spells & Magic introduced Alchemy as a "school of Thaumaturgy" - i.e. an approach of magic focused on Material component as much as the School of Song is focused on Vocal component. The Alchemist is a specialist wizard who has Illusion and Necromancy spells barred, doesn't use Verbal component at all for spells from the school's list and can create potions at lower level (same as with Geometers and scrolls). They need an expensive (double cost) laboratory to actually use their advantages, but not required to expand library for research like normal Wizards - it's more hands-on.
- D&D 3.0 magic item creation involved prerequisite spells, so Alchemy skill was left with non-magical items producing minor effects. Some of the substances created with this Craft skill are plausible products of mundane chemistry, but others are definitely fantastical in nature.
- The 3.5 version of the D&D rules turned it into Craft (Alchemy) skill, but unlike most Craft it requires having a spell-casting class to do anything useful - even acid or smoke bomb.
- Averted in the 4th edition. The Alchemist theme does not have the Arcane power source.
- Some settings, such as Eberron or Ravenloft, greatly expand on what alchemy is capable of, both in realistic and occult/supernatural forms.
- Masque of the Red Death has different proficiency groups. Alchemy is in Arcane group and allows to identify magical potions.
- Forgotten Realms with its "magic is everywhere" had interplay of magic and alchemy from early on.
- Volo’s Guide to All Things Magical has a chapter about elixirs - they may give the imbiber permanent enhancements like e.g. ability to produce flames a few times per day with an act of will or complete immunity to natural cold (cold spells still hurt, but at minimum damage). All one needs is a bunch of exotic reagents and a few long, but fairly simple processes. And willingness to gamble, because more often than not drinking an elixir backfires, in which case results - No Saving Throw for any - may range from nothing to survivable damage to lycanthropy to (in 2 of 4 examples) immediate death.
It should be noted that there is nothing save lack of leisure time, wealth, and power to keep most folk of Faerûn from the use of elixirs. Priests, nobles, and indeed everyone can (if they are foolish enough) get into the game, though an ability to wield spells seems necessary for many of the more powerful effects.
- Mystara sourcebooks, including Gazeteers and sub-setting Red Steel has Alchemy as a separate skill (Wizard group) that on its own doesn't allow to create magical potions, but allows to analyze such substances, create antidotes to known poisons and other useul tricks like these. Also, allows to create settig-specific materials like smoke powder and crimson essence.
- There's an alchemist PC class in the Talislanta game, and several nations in that setting hold the secrets of specific magical formulas of that craft.
- Baron Alexander in Amnesia the Dark Descent practices an extremely disturbing form of alchemy, subjecting people to horrible tortures to extract mystical vitae from their bodies, to extend his life and fuel a process to open a portal between the worlds.
- The entire Atelier, which includes Atelier Iris and the Mana Khemia spin-offs.
- Dwarf Fortress has an Alchemy skill that was originally used for producing soap. There's now unintentional alchemy - turning everything from platinum to adamantine into iron goblets - but that is what we call a "bug".
- In The Elder Scrolls (which was based on the developers' own homebrew D&D setting) alchemy is portrayed as a sort of scientific magic; when you Item Crafting potions you're distilling the ingredients (using a pestal and mortar, retort, etc), however you appear to be extracting the "magic" from them rather than more mundane chemical compounds (some of the in universe literature even uses this to justify the Health Food trope; chewing certain foods releases their basic properties, but not as well as properly mixing them would).
- Golden Sun, where Alchemy is the force responsible for people possessing Elemental Powers, and which the world requires in order to not wither away into nothing.
- Haunting Ground gives us alchemists in search of Azoth which should grant them immortality. Golems and homunculus also exist around the castle.
- In Melty Blood, Sion is a "mental" alchemist. While she does comment on how traditional alchemy is derived from seeking higher and higher levels of the physical (lead into gold, the body into the body eternal), her branch of alchemy seeks higher and higher brain capacity.
- Odin Sphere uses it for potion brewing, with effects ranging from healing draughts to napalm.
- Secret of Evermore builds on standard RPG-magic by requiring certain ingredients before the player can cast certain spells. Ingredients are obtained through purchase, finding as treasure, or examining certain areas of the world map (sidekick dog points these out frequently). The required ingredients usually make sense for the spell, such as Brimstone and Ash for a Fire spell, or Limestone and Wax for a Crushing spell. Others make less sense, such as Oil and Water for a Healing spell.
- Shadow of Destiny's plot involves quite a bit of Alchemy in it. More specifically, the use of the Philosopher's Stone in the creation of the Elixir of Youth and a Homunculus.
- Team Fortress 2 gives us the material known as Australium, which has similar effects. At first glance, it looks like an average gold bar (and indeed is speculated to be the material the Golden Wrench is made out of, which turns people to gold), but prolonged exposure to it instead gradually turns the wielder Australian, eventually growing a mustache, finding a taste for beer, growing gradually more muscular, and growing geographically-shaped chest hair.
- It's a bit more complex than that. Aside from making people more like stereotypical Australians, it simultaneously boosted their intelligence to Gadgeteer Genius levels, leading to Australia (home to the largest deposit of Australium, directly beneath their feet) becoming some sort of Crystal Spires and Togas/Raygun Gothic/Steampunk land of technological wonders in the 1800s alone. It's state in the 1960s, when the game actually takes place, is unknown, but the country was responsible for most of the anachronistic aspects of the TF2 universe like the Engineer's buildings. In fact, the BLU Engineeer's grandfather used some of the metal to build two life-extension machines (possibly three, but the location of the third remains a mystery) bringing the whole thing full circle to immortality.
- Alchemy is also a profession in World of Warcraft, although its primary use is in producing drugs—I mean, restorative and buff potions. At higher levels you can transmute gems into more valuable gems and metals into more valuable metals—including, yes, iron into gold. Most of these transmutations may only be performed daily, and, yes, they demand an (also alchemist-made) Philosopher's Stone to perform.
- Considering the limited applications, iron is generally more valuable than gold anyway. And if sold to an NPC, a bar of gold is only worth 10 silver coins.
- Xenosaga references the four stages of the Magnum Opus with the characters Nigredo, Albedo, Citrine (Citrinitas), and Rubedo.
- In the Wizardry series of games, Alchemy is one of four schools of magic along Wizardry, Divinity and Psionics.
- In Zork Nemesis, you encounter the disembodied spirits of four alchemists. They ask for your help to defeat their killer, Nemesis, who also murdered Alexandria, the daughter of one of the alchemists. The alchemists killed Alexandria. She had been conceived and raised to be the key to eternal life. Nemesis was her boyfriend, who stopped the alchemists in the middle of the ritual. He kept their souls alive and tortured them to find out how to resurrect Alexandria.
- Alchemy in Might and Magic can be used to create a variety of magical potions (including giving specific permanent magical enchantments to nonmagical items of high enough quality). This, presumably, is why the Might Hero for the Tower faction in Heroes III was the Alchemist.
- Gunnerkrigg Court is heavy on the alchemical symbolism - the symbols for antimony, bismuth, and lead, among others, make appearances. A less than admired, but pervasive line of study in the Court is "Etheric Sciences", which constantly borders on development of Magitek - there are golems built by one of the Court's founders, etheric power stations and a computer that allows to generate Some Kind of Force Field, open Portal Doors and some other useful effects.
- One villain from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, The Alchemist, specifically uses crafted potions, ungents, and powders to create effects in his career as a criminal.
- The game Sburb that appears in Homestuck has... punch-card based alchemy. Granted, it's an immersive video game in a world where computer programming can affect the real world, and it doesn't really involve either gold or lead - but the way this works is, each object is assigned a 48-bit code and doing bitwise operations on these codes (and using the weird machines to manufacture the result) will create an object that has the characteristics of both original codes. Of course, it costs "build grist" and other types of "grist" to make these things, too, and some objects have codes only readable by a special machine and some code combinations produce inappropriate objects, but it has been put to use for making better weapons for the kids.
- Trinton Chronicles has some references to alchemy by Dan, an in-training alchemist who helps run an Alchemy shop.